For I know that my Redeemer lives…then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
– Job 19:25-27
“You have the patience of Job.” It’s a common saying, calling to mind the hero of this book and his patient faith in God. But actually, at least in the biblical telling of the story, Job is neither faithful nor patient! That fact makes the book stand out among Wisdom Books and makes it a turning point in the way people thought about God in biblical times. Job was written by an anonymous author between the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C.
Job suffers a horrific reversal of fortune that reads more like an episode of Days of Our Lives than profound biblical literature. Thus, the main part of the book is a collection of Shakespearean speeches that try to get at “theodicy,” or “why bad things happen to good people.” Job is bereft of relatives, wealth, and property by “The Adversary” (the meaning of the word Satan) who literally bets God that Job only sings the divine praises because of the good things he has. “Stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has,” the Adversary says to God, “and Job will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). Job adamantly refuses to do this, however. Instead, he cries out to God in his pain and demands God respond personally and answer for it all. Job is joined by three so-called “friends,” and a later interloper, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to kick him while he is down and tell him that he must be a great sinner to be suffering so much. This, of course, is a reflection of how people at the time thought of suffering— punishment from God.
Job doesn’t buy this explanation. Though his faith and hope ebb and flow through the book, clearly Job is more in touch with God than any of his friends, all living models of self-righteousness. Finally, Yahweh says, “Enough is enough,” and enters the discussion, speaking from the “whirlwind.” God does not really give Job an answer to his painful question, but speaks about how far God’s ways are above our own. In other words, it’s a mystery! Job’s response to this is humble submission. Having now seen God face-to-face, he has come to a new level in his relationship with God— trust that has deepened through hard-fought argument and the casting off of old ideas that don’t make sense anymore. This, more than patience in suffering, is the message of the book. Furthermore, Job shows that God continues to hear and respond to the cry of the poor and oppressed in our own day when they, like Job, cry out for justice.